Tom Douglas is Seattle's most revered cooking icon. Over the course of his long career, he's helped shepherd Seattle from its former days as a small-potatoes-restaurants-and-grunge city to its current status, as a legit food town full of super-creative chefs. Still today, Douglas's restaurant empire — with longtime favorites like Etta's, Palace Kitchen, and Dahlia Lounge, plus relative newcomers, like Serious Pie and Tanaka San — sets the bar for Seattle restaurants.
And he's most famous for cooking amazing salmon, taking advantage of the best local wild fish when it's in season and cooking it to perfection, so it's still moist and silky inside when it hits your plate. So as a Seattleite who loves salmon, I knew Douglas was the best expert to tell me the very best way to cook it. According to Douglas, salmon is meant for the grill.
"Grilling is one of my favorite ways to cook salmon, because the smoke of the grill pairs so well with the fat content of the fish," says Douglas. "Instead of pairing it with a heavy sauce, which can mask the flavor of beautiful, fresh salmon, I like to make a simple fruit or vegetable relish, like this plum relish. You could also make an aioli seasoned with lemon juice and zest, or fold finely diced cucumber into Greek yogurt and add chopped fresh dill or chives." He also loves making simple flavored salts, like coriander salt, to add a hit of flavor.
Tom Douglas's Top Tips for Cooking Salmon
- Buy fresh, high-quality fish from a fishmonger or supermarket fish department you trust.
- Buy wild salmon. Sure, it costs more, but wild salmon is an irreplaceable resource. When you buy wild salmon, you support the wild salmon industry that helps keep it from extinction.
- Fish cooks fast, so be careful not to overcook it. Over direct heat, a six-ounce salmon fillet will take a total grilling time of only about 10 minutes, so don't walk away. Pay close attention while the salmon is on the grill and move it to a cooler spot if it's in danger of burning. Take the salmon off the grill as soon as it's done.
- Keep it simple. Let the flavor of the fish shine through. It's okay to just season the salmon on both sides with salt and pepper.
From the Pro: How do you know when fish is cooked?
One of the best ways is to use a digital meat thermometer to check the thickest part of the fish. The internal temperature of the salmon should be 125°F to 135°F when it's done (and the temperature will rise a bit as it rests). Or you can take the salmon off the grill and cut into a piece with a small knife to see if it is cooked enough inside. The center should be just barely translucent.
Easy Grilled Salmon with Plum-Basil Relish
For the plum relish:
5 medium red plums, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salmon:
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, skin removed
3 to 4 teaspoons coriander salt (see Recipe Notes)
4 lemon wedges
Make the plum relish: Combine the plums, basil, honey, lemon juice, and oil in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside.
Make the salmon: Prepare an outdoor charcoal grill for medium, direct heat. Meanwhile, lightly brush the salmon on both sides with oil, then season on both sides with the coriander salt.
When the grill is hot, grill the salmon with the grill cover on and the vents open. When the salmon has grill marks on the bottom, flip with a flat spatula and cook until done to your liking. During this time, keep an eye on the salmon to make sure it doesn't burn, moving it to a cooler part of the grill if necessary. The time it will take to cook the fish will vary depending on the heat of the grill and the thickness of the fillets, about 10 minutes total grilling time.
Transfer the salmon to plates. Serve with the plum relish and a lemon wedge.
- Coriander salt: To make the coriander salt, combine equal parts crushed coriander seeds and flaky sea salt. You can crush the coriander seeds using a mortar and pestle, or you can use a small heavy pot, moving the bottom edge of the pot back and forth over the seeds to crush them. If you have made extra coriander salt, store it in a lidded jar and use it the next time you grill salmon, chicken, or pork.
- Grilling indoors: The salmon can be grilled on a grill pan indoors over medium-high heat, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Be careful to monitor the heat and lower it if needed.